Jenna Jefferies, YEN Member Insights, February 2011
Jenna Jefferies on… Breaking through Gender Boundaries
Jenna Jefferies, 34 Years Old
National Account Manager, K&N Engineering Inc;
The automotive industry at one time was considered a “good old boys” club, but over the past few centuries many influential women have put that notion to rest. At 34 years old, Jenna Jefferies embodies the standards that past and present industry pioneers envisioned.
You grew up in Southern California as the only girl in a family that has been involved in racing cars for as long as you can remember. How hard was that?
My family has been involved in the automotive industry since before I was born. My grandfather worked for a major auto parts store, and an uncle owned a business that supplied off-road parts and accessories and participated in off-road races. My dad loved buying and restoring old cars; one of his cars was even featured on the cover of Hot Rod Magazine. So, I have always been involved in the auto industry in some way - honestly I can’t say that this type of life has been hard. My family has been my greatest support group. They understand the passion and enthusiasm of what I do and why I love my career.
At what point in your life did you decide that this was the industry for you? Was there something that triggered that moment?
Ironically I never imagined that I would be involved in the automotive industry. I was young when I started with K&N and at that time in my life, it was a job. Now, I can’t imagine my career outside of the industry. I have been extremely lucky that K&N has trusted me and given me many opportunities to learn and grow.
In addition to working for K&N you assist on your brothers’ race team as well as working a ton of race events. Have you ever faced any gender hurdles? If so how did you overcome them?
I love attending and helping my brothers’ out at all of their off-road races. After being part of their race team for many years, you get to know everyone so well you don’t really face any gender hurdles. On the other hand, I have attended certain events where you encounter people that refuse to ask an automotive question just because I am a woman. They would rather wait to talk to a man. Luckily, this seems to be decreasing over the last few years as there are more and more women now attending these events. In the past, I always did my best to answer all of their questions with a smile on my face; however, at times it does bother me.
Who do you look to as a role model? Why?
My Mom is my role model. Raising four kids and working couldn’t have been easy. Both her and my dad worked very hard and still managed to be very involved in our extracurricular activities. I watched her go from being in an entry-level position to being in one of the top positions at her company. She worked very hard and it paid off. I hope that I have the same ambition as her and can succeed the same way she did.
Do you think that the current high profile female role models in IndyCar, NASCAR, NHRA etc…will attract more young women to the industry or actually set it back?
I believe that those females who are in the racing circuit for more than just the PR portion of it will definitely attract more women to the industry. You can really see the difference because it is apparent that they love to race and want to be part of the industry. It is their passion. It is hard for me to sit back and watch some women treat their work as just an ordinary job, because they don’t look happy signing autographs or talking to their fans. I hope that this does not set back some women from getting involved in the industry.
You’re a big advocate of charity work. Which charities are you involved in? How do you feel they have helped you grow into the leader you are today?
I enjoy supporting breast cancer awareness as well as Moebius Syndrome. Breast Cancer is a devastating disease that affects so many women surrounding us. I attend and contribute to the Annual Powder Puff Women’s Off-Road Race which supports breast cancer each year. It is tremendous to see the support of the Off-Road community at this event. I have a young cousin who was born with Moebius Syndrome. Watching her go through the surgeries and physical therapy she has had to endure gives me the chills. To see people go through difficult issues like this make you take a step back and appreciate life, knowing that in an instant your life can take a drastic turn and you should never take it for granted.